Rhythmic Mapping For Song Contractual Lyrics

I talked about character-meter mapping in Tang poetry translations at this post (https://chineselyricpoetry.wordpress.com/2016/03/25/the-road-to-english/) as well as why it is much more difficult to translate Song contractual lyrics at this other post (https://chineselyricpoetry.wordpress.com/2016/04/24/song-contractual-lyrics/). Now, we want to consider character-meter mapping in Song contractual lyrics translations.

Basically, I still want English to be iambic only, due to ease of writing and sonority of rhyme. The following table sums up character-meter mapping in Song contractual lyrics translations.

Chinese Verse Chinese Caesurae English Verse English Caesura
Monocharacter 1 Monometer 1
Dicharacter 2 Dimeter 2
Tricharacter 3 Trimeter 3
Tetracharacter 2 + 2 Tetrameter 4
Pentacharacter 2 + 3 Pentameter 5
Hexacharacter 2 + 2 + 2 Hexameter 6
Heptacharacter 2 + 2 + 3 Heptameter 4 + 3
Octacharacter 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 Octameter 4 + 4
Enneacharacter 2 + 2 + 2 + 3 Enneameter 5 + 4
Decacharacter 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 Decameter 5 + 5

Firstly, note that while caesurae are strongly recommended in Chinese, they are only suggested in English. Secondly, in Tang poetry, a pentacharacter maps to a trimeter to feel as neat and clean while a heptacharacter maps to a pentameter to feel as natural and standard. Unfortunately, in Song contractual lyrics, every character has to map to a foot just so everything falls in the right place. Fortunately and interestingly, Song contractual lyrics mostly comprise of incompressible concise crafty verses (https://chineselyricpoetry.wordpress.com/2016/04/16/concise-crafty-words/), which are already clean and neat regardless of character counts, not to mention how handy those few extra syllables in English will come in handy. Thirdly, I haven’t seen a decacharacter in Song contractual lyrics in my whole life, so the last mapping gives you an idea about how I might want to map it to English, an extension of the preceding patterns.

Now, how about the naturalness of heptacharacters in Tang poetry? Is it lost in Song contractual lyrics? Well, how about this? Given that you are writing poetry instead of prose anyway, keep it neat and clean above all. Naturalness will naturally flow when you get the overall poetry integrity right. Keep in mind that there are at least 50,000 Tang poems and 30,000 Song contractual lyrics from well-known historical records alone. There will be enough exercises for those who want to practice poetry translation from Chinese to English.


About Run Song

Run Song (宋闰) is my pen name for the Moments of Poetry, a collection of poems about the greatest moments of life. If photography captures the greatest moments of life, poetry is the life behind them.
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